SCV Legal Aid: From Lawyer to People

By Laura Bartels

In a laundromat converted to a city community center in North Fillmore, Santa Clara Valley Legal Aid’s nine volunteer attorneys assist in family law, employment law, landlord-tenant law, consumer rights, and civil issues. But most of what happens in the small room is translation, not from English to Spanish, well, that too, but from Lawyer to People. As attorneys, we are specially trained in the legal language and the rigors of court procedures. But for people who have never entered the legal system, we speak a foreign language.

Why is a divorce called a dissolution? Perhaps an “Order to Show Cause” could be changed to: “The Court Has a Question, Please Come By.” An eviction is a traumatic and swift judicial remedy that is couched as an “Unlawful Detainer.” A “Three Day Notice to Quit” does not mean that after your long weekend your job is finished. “Probate” is not an internal organ or money that you’re getting back from your purchase-it’s a very complex set of boxes to check. A lawsuit is actually a “Complaint” and I just got a “Summons”, am I supposed to go somewhere?

I had a woman tell me that she had been trying for a month to find a judge to sign a “Letter of Testamentary” so that she could file a life insurance claim. All she needed was some simple “letter” from a judge- a one-page judicial council form with 6 boxes checked with pretty purple seals in the corners. It’s difficult for her to understand that “Letters Testamentary” take around $1,000 in filing and publication fees and over a month to get. And why isn’t it called something logical like “Authority of Executor”?

Mediation may involve going into a quiet corner and becoming quiet with your inner self, but you’re most likely to be joined in a conference room with attorneys. I thought Laches were things on my door? How in this epidemic of hand sanitizers can they claim “Unclean Hands”? “Statute of Frauds”— maybe we could say “Show Me The Writing.” “Parol Evidence” inmates giving evidence to a panel to justify release? Estoppel? Estopped to Deny? Generally denying? Specially denying?

What’s with the “Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act” for my health insurance—COBRA? Really?

We send clients to file papers at “the County” on their way to see their POS to ask the PD what the DA is doing with the TRO and DV charges.

Continue reading August issue CITATIONS Page 11


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